The Conservatives Can No Longer Avoid The Terrible Stain Of Islamophobia In Their Ranks

The party isn’t just in denial about hatred of Muslims pulsing through their ranks, they’re intensely relaxed about it
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When the sun eventually sets on this chaotic, turbulent time in British politics, it will have seen a changed landscape in the country. Britain’s future with Europe changed forever, its place in the world less certain, and institutional racism no longer dismissed as a concept for sociologists but a rot creeping through politics.

Councillors found guilty of racist posts, activists sharing content of extreme bigotry; MPs stoking xenophobia for political gain and a culture of serious denial. No, not Labour. Or, more accurately, not just Labour. The Conservatives have brushed Islamophobia underneath the carpet but the evidence is getting bigger and it can’t stay concealed forever. For all the general focus on Labour becoming a safe space for anti-Semites, the Tories are as guilty of allowing anti-Muslim racism to become embedded within their party’s atmosphere. As a researcher at Tell MAMA, an anti-Muslim hate crime watchdog, I’ve been part of a team that has recorded increasingly high levels of Islamophobia and found the Conservatives to be increasingly riddled with it.

The party will have claimed to have move swiftly by suspending fourteen members found to have behaved in an Islamophobic manner. It would be easy to see that and claim the party, once the nasty party, is aggressive against racism, unlike Labour. Certainly, Tories on Twitter like Jacob Rees-Mogg did not hesitate in pointing that out. Add into that Tory council candidate Peter Lamb stepping down after likening Islam to alcoholism and it would appear that they are stronger against racism.

Yet the Tories have not moved on this, but rather been nudged, jabbed and prodded by the relentlessly patient, determined and resilient Sayeeda Warsi. She has consistently highlighted the institutional crisis of racism lurking in the party, but been ignored for too long. As she pointed out, the Tories have been reactive on racism, and failed to acknowledge it, much more content to focus on Labour’s rotten handling of anti-Semitism.

The culture of denial runs to the top. Nicky Morgan denied that the party had a problem; Henry Smith insisted that Sajid Javid being the home secretary illustrated the party didn’t have a problem. This has been the mantra of the Conservative Party so far. And it doesn’t add up to what we have seen so far. Councillors have been seen endorsing far-right content. The young Tory movement, Starting Point, included a Tory who approved far-right messages.

That’s before we get onto the known MPs who have shockingly used Islamophobia as a weapon. Boris Johnson mocked Muslim women wearing the burqa as “letterboxes” and ridiculed it. The party supposedly conducted an internal inquiry but Johnson was cleared. Then, we get onto Zac Goldsmith, who ran on a campaign of extremely loud dog-whistle racism during the 2016 London Mayoral Election by trying to cast Sadiq Khan as someone who was linked to Islamist radicals. Londoners saw it, and he paid the price for it. Michael Fabricant, another MP, also targeted Khan – who has been viciously attacked by the Conservatives often. Then there was Bob Blackman, MP for Harrow East, who retweeted Tommy Robinson and shared an article that came from a rabidly Islamophobic website. The party, and Blackman, also hosted Tapan Ghosh, a Hindu nationalist who has cheered on the slaughter of Muslims in Burma.

Throughout all of this, Warsi has shone a light on the sickness festering in the party. She has been backed by the Conservative Muslim Forum but no-one else in the party. Warsi called for an inquiry but had largely been ignored. Until now. It’s become increasingly clear to people that there’s more than one political party dabbling in racism. There are some differences. The ideological creed behind Labour’s anti-Semitism predates its current incarnation, but has been facilitated by the leadership’s obvious reluctance to genuinely tackle it.

However, and although it currently seems like a worse epidemic of racism exists in Labour, the political cultures of the two parties are also different. Labour’s leadership is embroiled in a crisis of denial yet it would be dishonest to suggest the entire party is ignoring the crisis. That Labour is so deeply fractured suggests there are many in the party that care enough about anti-Semitism. The same cannot be said of the Tories, where Warsi has largely been waging a battle by herself.

The Conservatives have a racism that isn’t confined to any one individual but pulses throughout the party. What is chilling is that both Boris Johnson and Zac Goldsmith recognised the anti-Muslim suspicion in society and decided to use it. The Tories aren’t just in denial about racism, they’re intensely relaxed about it. One imagines that had public attitude towards Muslims been more positive, the Tories would have been far swifter and more robust on this.

This points to an alarming situation for British Muslims. Tell MAMA has recorded an increase in anti-Muslim hate crime following political events, and it’s worrying to think the government that should protect Muslims from hate crime is infested with the same racism. The behaviour of its many councillors and activists, and several of its MPs, shows a reckless willingness to wade into the waters occupied by the far-right voices. There’s a connection between what is happening within the Conservative Party and the likes of Tommy Robinson whipping up a maelstrom of anti-Muslim hate.


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